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Deferred sentence possible

Deferred sentence possible

A man who was sent to boot camp for robbing a Billings convenience store last year will receive a deferred sentence if he complies with the terms of his probation.

Alexander Thomas Gray Bennett pleaded guilty to robbery in the holdup of the Shiloh Express Exxon Center at 3969 Grand Ave. on March 18, 2001. Bennett pointed a handgun at a store clerk and took $180 in the robbery.

As part of the plea agreement, Bennett, 21, could ask for a reduced sentence if he successfully completed the Department of Corrections boot camp program. He completed the program earlier this year.

During a sentence reduction hearing Wednesday, District Judge Susan Watters agreed to a five-year deferred prosecution. Under the deal, Bennett's record will be cleared if he complies with the conditions of his probation for five years. Watters ordered Bennett to obtain mental health counseling and to undergo treatment for substance abuse. He also was fined $5,000.

"This is an opportunity for you to prove to the court and to your family that this was an aberration," Watters said.

Bennett's parents, Robert and Sheila Bennett, both testified on their son's behalf. The Bennetts live in Germany, and their son wouldn't be able to visit them if the felony conviction remains on his record because a convicted felon is ineligible for a passport, they said.

Prosecutors asked for a 10-year sentence with seven years suspended. Chief Deputy County Attorney Dan Swarz said he opposed deferred prosecution because Bennett had many below-average scores on progress reports at boot camp.

Bennett apologized for the crime, saying he made a "grave mistake." He said he hopes to attend he University of Montana and work. Tom Howard can be reached at 657-1261 or at thoward@billingsgazette.com

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